Sorry, no blog post today. My Aida cloth arrived and I spent all day getting started on this:
Exploding Tardis Cross-stitch. For Nerd-Craft glory. May post updates of progress if I feel so inclined.
… but why I hope they’ll get there.
A review of Starbound
From some of the makers of the incredibly popular Terraria, comes Starbound – often referred to as Terraria‘s spiritual sequel. A space sandbox game, where you can dig and build and craft to your hearts content, create beautiful structures, discover lost caves, fight off huge monsters, or cut down a lot of trees.
Like Terraria, there is a very Minecraft-like element to it – you dig, and you build. Fortunately, there is less of an emphasis on digging this time, and more on exploring. You don’t necessarily have to ever pick up a pick-axe and go underground – many of the materials you’ll need can be found on the surface. But, of course, there are many adventures to be had underground. Where Terraria caught a lot of bad-press for being essentially a 2D Minecraft, it is a much harder to give Starbound such a label, but as a creative sandbox game, it is difficult not to compare it with the giant of the market.
Starbound is huge. You are not confined to a single planet, but once you refuel you can tackle galaxies. You can harvest material from across the universe, touch down on a beautiful, fresh planet and essentially turn it into your own personal canvas. And the number of materials and items that can be found and created is massive, despite the constrains of blocky 16-bit-style graphics. It greatly extends that of it’s predecessor, and could have the potential to extend that of Minecraft. This is a game where I could potentially clock in weeks of gameplay.
However – and it is a very big however – it is still only potential. It isn’t quite there yet. After Terraria, the controls feel blocky and unresponsive and the mechanics do not feel nearly as intuitive as that of other sandboxes. If you continue to compare the game to Terraria, it doesn’t have the same sense of direction, and often one can feel lost as to how to proceed. The balance hasn’t quite been found between a sense of exploring and an approachable world. Not to mention the difficulty level. With overly powerful monsters that attack you during the day, coupled with food issues, and even the possibility of freezing to death - it all adds up into a very high likelihood that you won’t survive the first night. And, as it is beta, there are heaps of bugs. Servers constantly crash, the game takes forever to load and I think it’s trying to burn my computer out in an attempt to run. Not to mention (but then you should expect this from a beta) occasionally arriving to play the game, only to find your character has been deleted in the last update.
For now, stick to Minecraft, but perhaps in a few years the game will have balanced into something that might even compete with Notch. In the meantime it will be interesting to see how they progress, and if they manage to remain on the correct path.
… and why there seems to be a sim for everything nowadays.
a review of Cook, Serve, Delicious.
This is far from being the first cooking simulation I’ve played.
They’re usually pattern orientated, brightly coloured, and circle around the key game mechanic of time management. Can you get all the orders out perfectly, without pressing the wrong button, and before the customers get angry? Probably. The harder versions of these titles sometimes come with a problem-solving element, but most of them really cater to small children, or the ‘casual gamer’.
Purchased after watching Nilsey’s play through over at the Yogscast. As entertaining as we can expect from our favourite gaming Scot.
Cook, Serve, Delicious is an indie restaurant simulator where you have to cook and prepare food in a certain way to please your customers, and at a pace before they walk out. You earn money when they buy their food, which you spend on various upgrades and additions to your menu. An ‘element of difficulty’ is added with various chores, and the occasional robbery, but it’s pretty simple to play.
It almost feels like a typing game when you really get going. You can use the mouse, but it hardly feels the same as the soothing rhythm that switches your brain off (same sensation as watching soap operas) after a day sitting behind a desk doing the same sort of repetitive task you’re doing now. Because, unfortunately that’s what the game seems to simulate more closely. From I’ve deduced by listening to many good friends complain about their jobs in hospitality (and from what I hear, the complaints are always justified. I wouldn’t know, I had a ‘cooshy’ job in retail) hospo is rarely dull and repetitive. Usually it falls under the category of stressful and frustrating. The closest this game comes to stress is during ‘rush hour’, where you just have to press even more buttons in a short time. At least the colour pallet is inkeeping with the job, especially in the beginning. Dull and drab, and questionably meeting safety standards.
Progression is also a little slow – you cannot really progress any faster at the start once you’ve got the hang of it. Not only are there a number of other little goals to fulfill before your restaurant gains a star, but you also have to play for a certain number of in-game days. When you started perfecting everything at day three, having about seventeen days to go just seems pointless. You want more for a challenge, damn it.
Despite all this, it’s still a neat little time-waster. Does it quite meet the standards of a good simulation? Not really, since it isn’t really accurately simulating a restaurant scene. Is it worth the $10 on steam? I’d say it’s pushing the envelope a little. My advice is to pick it up on sale. That way you won’t feel so out of pocket when you inevitably get sick of it a few days later.
… and why you should be excited.
Due to a day spent playing too much Pokemon, I can only really express my excitement for the upcoming release of Broken Age – the point-and-click adventure by Double Fine. If you were hiding under a rock when the Kickstarter shook the gaming world. These are the same people who brought you the incredibly insane (but amazing) Psychonauts and this promises to have the same colourful aesthetic and creative humour.
If you’d like to see a snippet of the gameplay before you buy, check out Hannah’s early play through of Shay and Vella – our protagonists.
… and why we still buy them.
Awhile back, Lionheart Studios announced Fable Anniversary, an HD remastered edition of the 2004 Xbox game Fable. It’s rumoured to incorporate achievements (of course), a re-sync of the animated lip-syncing, and a shiny new interface. It’s current release date early February (depending where you live) and has a bunch of little goodies on offer if you preorder now. All of it being completely aesthetic, of course.
But this isn’t the only game to receive the HD treatment. In terms of game mechanics, video games have changed little over the past ten years, but we have seen the wonderful change over to high-def graphics. Since, it has become common practice for the best of our childhood to see a re-visit or re-make, often with the only change being shiner and prettier pixels on the screen. Often this is merely new textures. Some companies don’t even go further than that.
Halo: Combat Evolved Anniversary Edition is a good example there. You could even switch between the new and old textures in game. But doing so often made your head spin. The game did come with additional multi-player content with some fresh new maps, but they were in no way connected with the original game. I would’ve loved to have seen an HD Blood Gultch. Just for old time sake.
The Prince of Persia trilogy, God of War and Metal Gear Solid have also recently seen remakes, as have Balder’s Gate and a re-make of Munch’s Oddyssee, the sequel to the popular PlayStation title Abe’s Oddyssee is thought to also come out on PS3 later this year. Yet, no matter how much fans cry for a Final Fantasy VII remake, one will never come. Square Enix just can’t be trusted.
So it is clear that these games are selling, and it’s clear that we are buying them. But why? Often the ones purchasing the game have already played the original. Usually the re-mastered game is exactly the same as the original game with only new gimmicky textures. So why do we race to the shops and pre-order something we already played ten years ago?
Of course, the answer is nostalgia. Unfortunately, due to most consoles not having backwards capability, every ten years or so we loose our favourite iconic titles to the next generation. Ten years then pass, the old game slips into the edge of our memory, and this is the perfect moment for the publisher to unleash the re-mastered version upon the fans. Remember that game you used to really love? Well, now you can play it again, and it won’t look so ugly! It’s a whole new game! But we didn’t have to do half as much work or spend half as much money. It’s a win, win. Right?
But, of course, since then many other things have often changed. Did you ever try going back to the Halo Anniversary game after spending hours on Halo: Reach or Halo 4. Only then did I learn that over the past ten years, Microsoft and Bungi had been slowly improving those controllers until it no longer felt like you were trying to control a tank. Although it was nice to wield the original pistol again. Gosh that thing packed a punch.
Playing Assassin’s Creed after Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag is exactly the same. I loved the story of Altair, so I thought it would be nice to return to an old favourite. Within two minutes I was getting frustrated because I was constantly flinging myself off buildings and alerting guards I didn’t want to alert. When the game had come out, I absolutely adored it. But so much had changed. Now it was just cumbersome compared to what I had grown used to. We remember the good, not the bad.
This won’t stop me from rushing out and buying Fable Anniversary. I will continue to revisit my childhood games with excitement and nostalgia. At least now it will be another ten years until Fable has to take its place in the lost video game vaults. Hopefully it can live up to the lofty expectations and memories I have of it.
… but why that’s ok.
There were many things wrong with Fifty Shades of Grey.
Aside from the unhealthy relationship, the awful characters, the removal of woman’s rights, the mass-production of decidedly average writing, the not-so-accurate bondage scene and it’s connection to twilight…
It was really bad smut.
Suddenly, one of my favourite genres was put on under the firing line. If Fifty Shades had been mixed into the large circuit of other smut stories, it wouldn’t receive half the hype and controversy. Because it is just that – bad smut. Bad erotica. There is nothing particularly wicked about it, nothing salacious or forbidden. It is incredibly unrealistic, and I have read many books and stories that have done a far better job at creating the fantasy world of rich guy-poor girl. Think Pretty Woman. But with more sex.
Now I almost feel guilty for this small pleasure. I feel like I’m walking the dark and dangerous places of the internet when I read erotic fan-fiction. I feel like all eyes are upon me when I glance over the romance section in a bookshop. But past all the Myles & Boon. I want something with a bit more substance than that thank you. But now I feel like everyone knows what I doing – that they know exactly the kind of books I read, and that I should be ashamed for reading them. I’d love to turn to that snob who looked at me with an up-turned nose before perusing the latest Jodi Picoult and shout – I AM A BOOK REVIEWER. I HAVE MORE TASTE IN MY LITERATURE THAN YOU HAVE IN YOUR MOUTH.
But then I would be meeting her expectations. Crazy cat woman who sits on the couch and reads erotica all day. (Actually, that doesn’t sound like an awful life…)
Now, my little guilty pleasure is solely read on my Kindle, or in the dark corners of the internet. If fact, the internet is perhaps the best place to start if you are curious about this genre. The world of fan-fiction is a wonderful place, and has been completely overrun with sex. To a fault. Now you do have to sift through the garbage to reach the gems, but there are plenty out there. It’s a great way for talented writers to stretch their fingers and reach out to readers with minimum effort. I’ve done it.
Otherwise, you have to reach past those terrible (and let’s face it, they are always terrible) covers and sift through review after review to find something that has been basically lorded about. If you find a novel that is classed as erotica or romance, but is celebrated for its storyline, you have likely hit the jackpot. Because context is important. There are only so may times one can read about sex before it all sounds the same. He put the thing in the thing, and they banged and it happened and blah blah blah…
But one of your best port of calls is the Vaginal Fantasy Book Club, hosted by Felicia Day, Veronica Belmont, Kiala Kazebee and Bonnie Burton. Every month these four girls sit down and talk about a book or two and drink. They suggest two books a month for you to read so you can follow the conversation to. It’s a great way to pick up new books, and you can take in suggestions from their goodreads forums.
Then once you do, curl up on your couch with a cup of tea and enjoy. Or you can enjoy in the coffee shop, or on the train home. Sometimes reading the extra saucy erotica in a public place feels more forbidden than the actual content. However, you do get very good at a dead-pan expression when, right in the thick of it, someone you know walks up to say hello and asks you what you’re reading.
… and why we should be excited.
Last night, the season 4 Game of Thrones trailer was released. Something to keep us entertained while we wait the three months until the release date.
But this season is going to be worth the wait. Trust me – I read the books.
You thought Season 3 was good? It was only the first half of the third book, A Storm of Swords. Guess what? The second half of that book – that’s where things really get interesting.
… but why you should keep hold of her for a rainy day.
We have reached the eighth generation of consoles. Squeezed in next to the still dominant Xbox 360 and PS3 sit their upgrades with the scattering of games currently available with them. Still I sit with my Xbox 360, trying to work through a number of titles before I can justify purchasing an Xbox One. With games still being released on my current console, and with nothing to tempt me towards the new, why should I rush out and upgrade just so I can have the next big thing? Besides, there are some absolute gems on this old thing – some iconic franchises formed and cultivated. There is still so much to play.
So here’s a list of reasons for you not to trade in that old 360 for the brand new model just yet. You have all of these to play first.
1. Halo 4
Well, I guess to play Halo 4, you ought to really play Halo 3 to understand what is going on. Although none of us really wanted to watch as Microsoft dragged out a favoured Xbox classic to the death, most of us still went out and gave it a shot. And I don’t think any of us expected the beauty of what was to appear on our screens.
Set in the distant future, Master Chief – a super-human Spartan must save the world from the Covenant. Again. Along with his pet sexy-hologram Cortana.
I’d like to think there is a little more to it than that… but if I go into it any further, this post will no longer be spoiler free.
Love or hate Halo, you cannot deny that it is the mascot of the Xbox – much like Mario for Nintendo. To see Master Chief fade away into the archives of video-game history would see the console then turning to Call of Duty for guidance. And we cannot have that. Give or take Reach, don’t even go near Halo: Wars, but Halo 4 is an experience of nostalgia, entertainment, and history.
2. The Assassin’s Creed series
Ubisoft’s best-selling game series started it’s beginnings on the humble seventh generation. The storyline of Desmond Miles may have not been the most exciting or well-written of our time, but the game-play and open-world of the franchise was always addictive.
What do you do? You run around some beautiful open worlds, leaping around and off the tall buildings or trees, and stabbing your enemies in the throat before skipping off to the next chap. There is something incredibly satisfying about reaching the top of the highest point in the city, and then leaping off dramatically into a haystack below, somehow not killing yourself in the process. Realistic? Hell no. Fun? Like you wouldn’t believe.
It’s difficult to return to Altair from Edward Kenway – it is clear that the controls have become far more intuitive over the years – but it adds to the whole storyline to know your roots.
3. The Gears of War series.
After Judgement, I do hope that we will see this series put to rest. Although it could never be considered a work of art, it was the poster child of the Xbox 360. I would know, I had to plaster the shop with Marcus Fenix’s stupid face.
This series is very Halo-esque at times, but with more hulking men and occasionally questionable intentions. There are aliens, there are even zombie aliens, and you have to shoot them. No, you cannot broker a peace treaty – kill those suckers.
It took me a very long time to convert to this series, only finding peace with the online play of Gears of War 3. However, as one of the early release titles for the 360, Gears of War aided in the console’s success.
This was one of the games I played obsessively when I first acquired a 360. It was absolutely beautiful. I was bewitched with the art-style, the music, the villains, the gameplay – all combined with the terrifying Big Daddy’s and Little Sisters, it is no wonder this game developed a cult following.
The premise to both of them are very similar – you are in the segregated city of Rapture/Columbia, full of some rather crazed cultists that guzzle some sort of genetic enhancement juice (which you always end up taking to, you junky), and you have to weave yourself through some very creepy and wonderfully told storyline to save the day. Maybe. As in you can’t always guarantee that you’ll save the day. That’s Bioshock for you.
Forget Bioshock 2, it was awful, but this and Bioshock: Infinite are definitely worth your time and your awe.
5. The Mass Effect series
Some have called it one of the best told video games of all time. I wouldn’t quite go that far, but I won’t deny that Mass Effect was good.
You are Commander Shepard (Or perhaps Fem-Shep in ME3) in a sci-fi action role-playing game, trying to save the world from the Reapers. And it gets harder and harder every damn time.
It’s a game you really have to play just to understand what everyone was going on about. Especially with regards to the ending of 3. Once you play it, we should sit down and talk sometime.
6. Fallout 3 and Fallout: New Vegas
If you haven’t already gathered from some of my previous posts, I am a massive fan of Fallout 3. I cannot tell you how many hours I clocked into this game. Something about us just clicked – I think it may have been RPG Sandbox + Guns. Again, the art-style was beautiful, the monsters were often a little creepy, and the storyline could be incredibly brutal. As usual with Bethesda it was absolutely full of bugs. One of my favourites was the the woman with the upside down head who insisted on staring at me. But like Bethesda, I just considered it endearing.
You are an escapee from Vault 101. Kept safe from the outside world until now, you head out into the desolate wilderness in search of your father. Or not. Could always spend the time doing sidequests instead.
I didn’t feel that New Vegas quite lived up to Fallout 3, but I did enjoy the survival mode. I was slightly disappointed that it wasn’t an option for Skyrim considering it had the means to do so. If you feel you should take the time to walk outside, then sit down with a copy of Fallout instead. Then you’ll realise that outside isn’t a safe place to be.
7. Rock Band
The sixth generation bought us Guitar Hero, but the seventh took it a step further. Move over karaoke, this was the new party game. And I kicked serious arse. I was the reigning guitar champion. Because, let’s face it, everyone still wanted to be the lead guitarist.
Rock Band came with plastic versions of real instruments, so you could press buttons and pretend that you were good enough to play killer solos. Until you picked up a real guitar, and realised those dreams would never come true.
It seems that Rock Band has been out of commission for a few years now, but it will always hold a special place in my heart, and in my closet.
If you don’t have the time to play Borderlands, and least pick up Borderlands 2. The colour, the characters, the references, the jokes, the wonder that is a game that refuses to take itself too seriously. It also comes with the best DLC that was released this year – Tiny Tina’s Assault on Dragon Keep.
In both Borderlands and Borderlands 2, you play as a Vault Hunter of some reputable power and statute, arriving on Pandora to search for a legendary Vault and the treasure inside. But Pandora is hardly hospitable. There are all manner of creatures that will try to poison, burn, corrode, maim, stab, eat, squash, or disintergrate you first, and ask questions later. Let alone the monsters.
The first time you look up on upon the Skyrim night sky, you will gaze in wonder at what video games have become. This is one of the all-time best games I have ever played. You will forever find new things to do and new ways to play this game, and suddenly you haven’t slept for a week. If you thought Fallout was buggy, it’s nothing compared to some of the gems in this. The vibrating pie was a common one. As was the Saber-copter. One of the favourites I witnessed was the physics defying Mammoth who fell from the sky and crushed my character, sending it halfway across the map during the death animation. It is beautiful country to see from the air.
Like all Elder Scrolls games, you start off as a captive. Once you escape, it doesn’t matter what you do – you have an amazing fantasy realm in which to roam. Follow your destiny as Dragonborn, or go and make your life as a humble smith. Your only limit is your imagination. And, of course, the game design.
Be warned, this may eat your life.
10. The Batman franchise. No, Left for Dead, no… no, wait…Fable II and III, Grand Theft Auto V, Portal 2, Red Dead Redemption, Saints Row! Oh shoot…
Well, the point is that there are so many spectacular titles that we will be leaving behind as we embark on a new and exciting generation of gaming. Take this transition period as a chance to play these games before they disappear forever, lost in the archives of video game history.
Or at least until they appear on the future Xbox Live to be bought as a bundle for $20.